HAMBURG, Germany — As a reaction to a severe forgery case in German gene therapy research, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), one of the biggest and most influential German research funding agencies, has issued draft guidelines to secure good scientific practice. The final version will be put into force by DFG's senate this year.
In May 1997 the German scientific community was shaken by the news that the respected German gene therapy researcher Friedhelm Herrmann, of Ulm, together with his coworker and former companion Marion Brach, of Lübeck, invented data and published fraudulent results. During their career in several prestigious research institutions, both made up data, pictures and graphs, faked experiments and even successfully submitted a research proposal that Herrmann received as a reviewer and turned down only to copy the ideas for his own project. (See BioWorld International, May 28, 1997, p. 1.)
In the months that followed, the case widened. Investigations by several scientific committees revealed that more than 30 publications by Herrmann and Brach have been identified as forgeries.
In addition, other researchers and institutions have been affected. Twelve publications by another gene therapy researcher, Roland Mertelsmann, of Freiburg, Germany, a frequent co-author of Herrmann, have been found to contain fraudulent data. Mertelsmann is founder and supervisory board member of the first German gene therapy start-up, CellGenix AG, of Freiburg, and was recognized in 1994 for performing the first German gene therapy study. (See BioWorld International, Oct. 2, 1996, p. 5.)
Wolfgang Grünwald, president of DFG, said he was upset and ashamed: "I experience this case as a heavy personal defeat and, of course, a defeat for the whole German scientific community."
He added that review and control measures were insufficient in Germany. Consequently, he installed a 12-member commission to discuss precautions and draw up guidelines to make scientific misconduct more difficult in the future.
Apart from German researchers, members of the commission have included Lennart Philipson, director of Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, of New York; Bernhard Hirt, of Institut Suisse de Recherches Experimentales sur le Cancer, of Epalinges and Lausanne, Switzerland; and Claude Kordon, of the French National Institute on Health and Medical Research, in Lyon.
In 16 detailed recommendations, the guidelines require universities and research institutions to judge the quality of a researcher no longer by the number of publications or other quantitative impact factors, but by quality and originality of the results published. All institutions are urged to appoint a confidential person who can be contacted by anyone who suspects fraud within the staff or among coworkers.
The guidelines will force each researcher to keep protocols of published papers for at least 10 years. Furthermore, honorary authorship is criticized: In the future, each author of a paper will have full responsibility for the content of the publication.
Institutions that do not respect the guidelines, DFG stated, will be excluded from financial support.